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Authors: Paul Dowswell

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Battle Fleet (2007)

BOOK: Battle Fleet (2007)
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Battle Fleet (2007)
Sam Witchall [3]
Paul Dowswell

Sam escapes death in Australia when the truth about his false conviction is finally revealed. But on the journey back to England he faces pirates and a terrible storm, before making the longed-for trip back up the River Thames. Finally reunited with his family in Norfolk, Sam realises how much life at sea has become part of him. So when he hears that Napoleon plans to attack England, he is tempted to join the Navy once more, and finds himself Midshipman on none other than the Victory, preparing for one of the most epic battles in history: Trafalgar.

Paul Dowswell



Title Page



Chapter 1     Goodbye to All That

Chapter 2     Bird Trouble

Chapter 3     A Whiff of Sulphur

Chapter 4     ‘Run Out the Guns!’

Chapter 5     Peculs and Catties

Chapter 6     Ten Little Daggers

Chapter 7     Company

Chapter 8     The Speckled Monster

Chapter 9     Quarantined

Chapter 10    London Calling

Chapter 11    London Life

Chapter 12    Back from the Dead

Chapter 13    Adrift

Chapter 14    My Friend the Rat

Chapter 15    A Proper Gentleman

Chapter 16    HMS

Chapter 17    Murder

Chapter 18    Sailing into History

Chapter 19    ‘Enemy Coming Out of Port’

Chapter 20    Prepare for Battle

Chapter 21    Into the Fire

Chapter 22    Shot Through

Chapter 23    Waiting for Death

Chapter 24    The

Chapter 25    The Storm

Chapter 26    Dark Return


Also by Paul Dowswell


J & J

21st October 1805,
shortly before noon

This is a dream that will not leave me. I am propped against the quarterdeck rail on a stricken man-o’-war. I have been wounded and cannot move. Although it is daytime, all around is darkness – from a murky sky and smoke that pours from a fo’c’sle fire. Despite the heat of the blaze and the warm, cloying breeze blowing across the ship, I feel cold sweat running down my back. No one else is there. I am alone on the deck but can hear anguished cries from below. I close my eyes, consumed by dread, and wish with all my heart I had never gone to sea…

Goodbye to All That

We sailed from Sydney on a perfect spring day, out into the blustery winds of the Pacific Ocean. Richard stood beside me atop the foremast with a huge grin on his face. ‘This is a voyage I never thought we’d make again,’ he said. ‘Certainly not as free men.’

I looked down on our ship the
, and thought what a handsome vessel she was. Three masts to speed us through the oceans, twenty-four guns to protect us. Despite these guns there was still no mistaking her for a man-o’-war. She had the plump curves of a merchant
vessel, and would make a tempting prize for any pirate or privateer who crossed our path. The crew would never pass muster on a Royal Navy ship either.

had visited Sydney to sell – plates, buckles, shoes – rather than buy. She had taken on a small quantity of timber and flax, and us. The crew had also loaded a large number of botanical specimens, each in their own separately marked pot, to be shipped back to England. Then they had stocked up on fresh water, fruit and fowl for the journey. Where there was space beside the plants, the weather deck was packed with caged birds, their constant squawking adding to the general pandemonium.

A haughty Scottish voice called up from below. ‘Look lively, you urchins on the fore topgallant!’ That could only be Lieutenant Hossack, the ship’s second in command. We had been on the
for less than a day, and already I had taken a strong dislike to him.

When we came down to the deck, he was waiting and gave me a swift clout around the ear. ‘I’ll not tolerate slackers, Witchall,’ he said. ‘You’ll pull your weight on this voyage, or you’ll find yourself with some stripes on your back.’

When my duties were over, I went to sit on the fo’c’sle, alone with my thoughts. Evening fell, a beautiful velvety evening, like a warm, starry blanket. A cool breeze cut
through the heat and I filled my lungs to bursting, feeling light-headed with happiness. For the first time in perhaps six months I was free from a crushing, ever-present fear of death.

Richard came to join me. We had sailed together since I was first pressed aboard HMS
three years before. After fighting side by side at Copenhagen we had been framed by our ship’s crooked Purser. Transported together as convicts to New South Wales we had now been pardoned and freed to return home.

He had joined the Royal Navy as his family in Massachusetts believed it would be the best apprenticeship for a boy with the sea in his bones. Now he had had enough. When we reached the East Indies port of Coupang, he planned to hook up with an American ship and work his passage home to Boston.

I was pleased to sit with him, of course, but I felt a twinge of betrayal over his plans to leave. We ought to look after each other. Especially on this ship. They were a rough bunch, the crew, and worse than the merchant seamen I’d known when I first went to sea.

We got some measure of them that afternoon, when there was a tussle on the fo’c’sle. Two seamen started arguing about a harbour girl who had tried to solicit their favour and they began to fight. Several of their fellows gathered around. Rather than pulling them apart, they started throwing stones and other missiles at them.
The Captain, Henry Evison, waded in, banged their heads together and had them both clapped in irons.

‘I expect the press gangs have taken the best merchant seamen,’ said Richard. ‘Half of this lot don’t even know their way around the rigging. The other half seem pretty good, though I’d hate to see them with some drink inside them.’

Along with half a dozen passengers, there were only thirty or so men in the crew. They were a curious collection of old salts, chancers, rogues and shirkers. There were colliermen from Newcastle trying their hand at deep-water sailing, a few former slavers, and rogues from the postal packets who boasted openly of their smuggling rackets. Toughest of the lot were the gruff northerners known as Greenlandmen – those who had made long voyages into the Arctic, hunting for humpback and right whales.

They were a breed apart and on that first evening I enjoyed listening to their boastful tales while we ate, especially the stories about escaping the press gang. They were not above a bloody battle when the Navy tried to board their whalers, and would drive them off with harpoon and grapeshot. One of the Greenlandmen, William Bedlington, was a bearded giant – six foot three – as he told us several times.

BOOK: Battle Fleet (2007)
10.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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